DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THERE WERE WI-FI 6 PRINTERS AVAILABLE OR THAT YOU MIGHT NEED TO SWITCH TO ONE? YOU’LL WANT TO READ THIS POST ALL THE WAY TO THE END.
You will inevitably end up migrating to a Wi-Fi 6 network, just like we all will inevitably end up using 5G cellular technology at some point. When that day will be and what will ultimately push you to upgrade may not yet be known. For some, it may be a security threat that needs to be stymied. For others, it may be the need for more bandwidth as digitalization projects pick up and more devices come online. But the point is, Wi-Fi 6 will be impossible to avoid.
As such, there will be a day when you need to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 printers. It may be that you need a more secure printing workflow, and a Wi-Fi 6 device connected to a Wi-Fi 6 network offers the strongest defense for your data. Or it could be that you need a mobile printer capable of producing RFID labels, and it just makes the most business sense to also ensure the printer is compatible with Wi-Fi 6 networks for performance and security purposes. Then again, you may just be due for a refresh because your printers are reaching the end-of-life.
Either way, you will eventually be moving your organizations’ wireless infrastructure to Wi-Fi 6, and you will eventually need to update your printers. So, the likelihood of you needing a Wi-Fi 6 printer sooner or later is pretty good – though I believe you’re going to need them sooner than you may think.
The compelling forces for both wireless network and device updates are growing stronger by the day. More and more retailers are implementing RFID source tagging requirements for suppliers, and more organizations are realizing that RFID-tagged inventory is far easier to track, manage and pick/pack/ship in stores, fulfillment centers, hospitals, pharmacies, warehouses, etc. Plus, shoppers are losing patience when it comes to incorrect shelf/product pricing and shelf stock accuracy – and both consumer and commercial customers are holding organizations increasingly accountable for mis-delivered orders and late deliveries, many of which can be traced back to labeling issues at some point in the supply chain operation. On top of these “normal” business dynamics, the number of major cybersecurity breaches is rising each day. Therefore, there will be a day in the very near future when you will need to move to Wi-Fi 6 printers that can help sustain your business and secure your data to the latest standards.
So, let’s talk about what will happen when that day comes (because no one likes surprises in business.) More specifically, let’s talk about what you will have to do when that day comes.
First, you’re going to have to either migrate or replace a ton of wireless devices and make sure they’re all able to connect – and stay connected – to the new network. You’re also going to have to make sure they are as secure as possible. Not just mobile printers, but mobile computers, tablets, wearables, and barcode scanners (or sensors, cameras, and robots). But I want to really focus on mobile printers since your business performance hinges on their performance. If they don’t work, your team can’t easily generate labels or update price tags on the spot, and that will negatively impact your business performance for a host of reasons.
While you could technically use Wi-Fi 5 devices on your Wi-Fi 6 network (and vice versa), you’re not going to get the full benefit of your Wi-Fi 6 network unless you are also using Wi-Fi 6 devices. One of our customers in Europe recently realized that. They moved to Wi-Fi 6 quite quickly after experiencing a devastating cybersecurity incident on an older network and, after speaking with several experts, realized that without Wi-Fi 6 devices connected to that new Wi-Fi 6 network, they were more vulnerabilities than they could tolerate in their upgraded wireless environment. So, they called us to see if we could get them Wi-Fi 6 mobile printers that offered WPA3 security protection. Fortunately, we could, and they’re using them today. (We recently rolled out the industry’s first Wi-Fi 6-enabled mobile printers, so it was perfect timing given this customer’s needs).
Of course, security isn’t the only reason to ensure you have the appropriate printers connected to your wireless network. I just believe it’s one of the most important reasons given the escalating data security threat every business is under these days. Too many organizations prioritize mobile computer security but forget about printer security. That’s why they are viewed as easy targets for bad actors. They have a lot of valuable data feeding to them and, if not locked down well, provide an easy access point to wireless networks and, therefore, other connected enterprise information systems. So, make today – or the day you power up your Wi-Fi 6 network the day you change that.
Now, once you’ve got a shortlist of Wi-Fi 6 printers outlined, there are couple more things to think about before deciding which one is best:
- How much will your workers be moving around? Will they stay inside the four walls of your store, warehouse, hospital, or plant? Will they need to work outside on occasion, perhaps in the garden center, in the curbside pickup/returns lot, or at a blood drive? This will help you determine how much coverage and, specifically, how many access points – you will need to ensure a consistent connection. You don’t want the mobile printer to disconnect from the network as they get further from an access point. You need to ensure workers can print labels, receipts and more in place, no matter where they’re working.
- How many devices will the printers need to connect to, and how easily can they connect? Though you may have a mixed form factor or mixed model device fleet from a mobile computing and scanning perspective, the goal is to find a single mobile printer model that can connect to all those devices. It will make fleet management so much easier (and IT so much happier). So, consider this type of connectivity along with wireless network connectivity when picking the one best printer for you.
If you think you can hang onto your Wi-Fi 5 mobile printers a little longer because they have a lot more life in them, remember this: the total number of devices that must connect to your network is growing. When you have a high density of connected devices (not just printers) relying on the same access point, and you’re trying to use older technology from either a network or device perspective, you’re going to have performance issues. There’s a reason why large retailers and warehouse operators are moving quickly to Wi-Fi 6. It’s not just because of security. It’s because they know they can connect more Wi-Fi 6 devices (such a mobile printers) to Wi-Fi 6 access points than they can by connecting Wi-Fi 5 devices to Wi-Fi 6 access points (or Wi-Fi 5 devices to Wi-Fi 5 access points).
Plus, we’re quickly getting to a place where it will be common to print a barcode label with embedded RFID capability. In fact, if you’re a manufacturer or distributor, you may already need to have a hybrid barcode + RFID label on many of the products and packages you’re shipping out. And since it’s not efficient to have your workers running back to a centrally located fixed print station to generate barcode or RFID labels, the best thing you can do is give them a mobile RFID printer that enables them to print whatever type of label they need wherever they are in that moment, whether at a packing station or even at the receiving dock. So many warehousing, retail and healthcare customers have told us lately that they’re having to tag inbound inventory themselves to enable better tracking and management in their facilities and downstream (as applicable). They’re also finding dozens of new places where mobile printers – or mobile RFID printers – are going to be required soon if they aren’t already. Here’s just a sampling:
It’s likely you’re in the same boat, trying to move faster through every workflow, every task, to satisfy customers’ expectations without making mistakes or compromising data security. If so, then please take my next piece of advice to heart:
Don’t assume your Wi-Fi 5 printers will be fine to keep using once your Wi-Fi 6 network is online.
Don’t assume a 1-for-1 swap with the Wi-Fi 6 version of your current printer will be sufficient when the day comes for you to switch to Wi-Fi 6 devices.
Use this move as an opportunity to reassess everything and start fresh if needed. Pretend you don’t have printers in play today because the goal is not really to replace what you have. It’s to buy what you’ll need to run a better operation – to enjoy greater security, be able to roam freely without getting disconnected, and connect more devices to every access point so that you don’t have to spend more money on more access points as more people/devices need to share information.
I recommend following the steps outlined in this post to ensure the next printer purchase you make – which will likely be a Wi-Fi 6 printer purchase – is going to protect your interests and deliver the return on investment (ROI) you’re expecting from both your Wi-Fi 6 network infrastructure and all the other devices connected to both your printer and the network.
ONE MORE THING…
I would never advocate for you to upgrade your printers just because new technology is available. There’s a reason we build Zebra printers to last for years. We’re not fans of fast churn. However, there is going to be something that pushes you to make a change, and it’s most likely going to be an outside force (like a cybersecurity breach or an RFID tagging requirement).
I just want to make sure that when you’re put in that position, you are being thoughtful versus reactive in your decision-making. No one wants to have to start over, rip and replace, or whatever you want to call it. But there is always benefit from such changes.
In the case of Wi-Fi 6, installing new access points gives you an opportunity to get more devices on the same network and keep them running at full speed despite the high-density traffic. And when you connect the right devices to that network, such as Wi-Fi 6 mobile printers or mobile computers, then you’re going to get better device performance because it’s going to run faster than a Wi-Fi 5 device on a Wi-Fi 6 network. In turn, the whole operation is going to run smoother and you’re going to get a better ROI for all your Wi-Fi 6 investments in aggregate.
Your team will be able to more quickly and consistently connect to the network which, in turn, will enable them to efficiently print the labels, shelf edge labels, and RFID tags that help you make and save money by enabling you to track, manage and move goods more accurately. You’ll also be able to complete print jobs and process transactions for both purchases and returns faster, which will help eliminate friction in the checkout and returns processes and help make you a hero with both customers and employees.
So, when the day comes for you to move to Wi-Fi 6, let’s talk about the right way to handle the move, from a device and network perspective. We have a global ecosystem of partners that specialize in wireless network infrastructure design and deployment as well as proper device selection. Together with our in-house experts, they can make sure you’re making the right decisions for your business because, as you know, it won’t be possible to run your business smoothly if your printers aren’t working optimally. If you can’t print labels or receipts, there are consequences. Don’t let Wi-Fi be the bottleneck slowing down your business processes…or your business’s growth. Reach out when you’re ready.
This blog was contributed by Zebra Technologies.